What Governs My Actions?

Friday Fish FryThe salty tang of lemon pepper and oil laced the air as I stepped from my car. The parking lot was mostly full. A cluster of tan uniforms milled around the open doors of a minivan to the left, and a young man with headphones sat in front of a cream-and-blue sign that read Our Lady of Peace.

I headed toward a set of white double-doors. An older black man joined me. “Must be in the gym,” he said.

“Must be,” I replied and held the door open for him. “Just follow the smell.”

It was Friday, and it was fish fry night at the Catholic church.

Recently I’ve been thinking about what governs my actions. The fish fry I attended, it turns out, was part of the Catholic tradition of Lent, where they fast something for 40 days. (I need to attend the next fish fry and ask how fish is tied in.) Jews have similar practices, with feasts, times of remembrance, things they can or cannot eat, etc. It can easily slip into empty tradition, of course, but I started to think about my own Protestant, legalism-free life. What governs my actions?

I think I can boil it down to this: I make decisions based on if it will make me sin. Eat this cookie? Sure, why not. Read that book? It probably won’t make me sin, so sure. Watch that movie? Eh, it has a few bad scenes that might make me lust, so I’ll skip it. But what about how I interact with my roommates? Or whether or not I give to the homeless man on the street corner? Or how I speak about my government officials?

Then there are things like drinking or chewing. I used to say that I didn’t have any biblical problems with drinking (Paul suggested a glass of wine with dinner, after all)—I just didn’t drink because I didn’t like the taste. But when I recently learned that one of my family members drinks an occasional beer… it suddenly just felt wrong.

But can I biblically say it’s wrong? How do I biblically decide yes or no? Do Jesus’ actions have any bearing on how I act?

Essentially, I think thus far my Christian walk has been an intellectual one. I study the Bible to see how Jesus feels about me, or to get a better spiritual understanding of the cross. But I’m beginning to wonder, does it have an impact on my daily actions? Yes, we should study the Bible; I definitely need a greater revelation of Jesus’ love for me. But am I making a conscious choice to apply that revelation to my actions?

My relationship with Jesus is changing my thoughts, but is it changing what I do? Am I keeping the intellectual learning at an arm’s distance? Changed thoughts should lead to changed actions—are they? I try to be joyful, inviting, and serve others—but that’s just a moral code. Am I acting more like Jesus, the Son of God? Am I being transformed into his image? Am I putting off the old man of sin and becoming a new creation?

Ha. Basically I’m asking myself, is my relationship with Jesus bearing fruit?

My current Bible study is in the gospel of Mark. The goal when I first started was to look at Jesus and ask four simple questions: what does he do, what does he say, what does this show me about him, and what does this show me about God the Father?

The unexpected side effect is I’m getting an understanding of Jesus as a real man. He felt dirt beneath his feet, he breathed oxygen, he talked with people, he slept and ate. I mostly ask questions as I read, but I feel like I’m connecting with the real man Jesus.

After the fish fry, I added a fifth question: how can I apply what Jesus did and said to my actions?

If he is a real man and if the way of the Lord, the way he desires me to live, is real, then there can be—there must be—real actions to apply to my life.

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3 thoughts on “What Governs My Actions?

  1. Keith

    Sometimes we think of penance as something just for Lent, but the Church actually states that “the penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent” (Can. 1250).

    Hold on. Every Friday of the whole year?

    Yep. Because Friday is the day that Christ made the ultimate sacrifice for us, the Church instructs that we should call this to mind frequently—not just the forty days before Easter. While most of us are familiar with abstaining from meat on Fridays in Lent, we are challenged by the Church to recall the importance of Good Friday throughout the year by making some act of penance each week.

    While penance may not be our favorite thing to do, it is how we remember the sacrifice of Christ not just theoretically, but in our day to day experience. When we remember what it’s like to go without something or do something that we don’t want to do, it reminds us how much Christ gave up out of love for us.

    If you follow any of the Bishops in the U.S. on twitter, you may have noticed that they’ve started challenging their followers to #MeatlessFridays. When Cardinal Dolan, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, addressed the Bishops in November, he reminded them that as the Church seeks to influence the world, “we cannot challenge unless we first let Him challenge us”.

    While meatless Fridays outside of Lent are not mandated, the Bishops are challenging us to unite and return to some form of penance on Friday. Abstaining from meat is a suggestion, but sacrificing anything you desire—chocolate, coke, French fries, sleeping in—will help you develop discipline and recall Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

    In the 2000 years of our Church’s history our finest moments didn’t come from her members seeking comfort and how to get by with doing the bare minimum. Rather, our great saints were formed from ordinary people like you and me asking what Christ was challenging them to when he commands that one “deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). Your competition is real and the consequences eternal. Strive for greatness in the spiritual life by embracing Christ and taking up your cross.

    Here’s some fasting information from my friends in Kansas City – http://www.theleaven.com/oldleavenwebsite/localfast031706.htm

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